Inner leadership is practiced in all social organizations and the full range of other leadership venues. The relationship between top leaders and their inner leaders and inner leaders and their coworker colleagues can make or break both organization programs and personal careers (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy, 1999). Effective inner leadership obviously connotes competent, loyal, and energetic support of the CEO’s agenda. It also demands that inner leaders be prepared to function in the unique culture they themselves create in the middle precincts of the corporation.
The differences between top and inner leaders described previously are real. Nevertheless, for a hundred years the professional literature has described the leader as a lone hero demolishing obstacles, leaping tall problems in a single bound. This “hero leadership” model implies that great things are accomplished by one larger-than-life individual who issues orders, gives direction, empowers less well equipped coworkers, leads the way, articulates a compelling vision, and changes behavior patterns with elan (Bradford and Cohen, 1984; Bennis, 1999).
While compelling, this hero model (Covey, 2001) was never the case in practice. Rather, inner leaders rely on the theory of values-based leadership. Of course, some of what inner leaders do is informed by orthodox theory. But the unique culture in which they work makes traditional theory only marginally useful, if at all. The inner leader’s values form the basis of the work community’s vision, the root of behaviors acceptable to that community, and the basis of the leader’s influence with others.
The need today, as never before, is for top and in-the-middle leaders to form clusters of close-knit partnerships throughout the corporation (Johnson, 1999). In partnership arrangements control doesn’t reside in a single person. Rather, power and responsibility are dispersed, giving the enterprise not one superstar but a whole constellation of costars. These partnerships can be alliances in which the pleasure of working together and of being together compensates the inner leader for living in the shadow of the more celebrated CEO hero (Heenan and Bennis, 1999).
Specifying specific skills, methods, techniques, and attitudes of mind characteristic of inner leadership is the focus of this resource. To list and describe them here would be redundant. As readers peruse the following parts of the book, they will discover something of the range of inner leadership techniques they must master. The techniques discussed in each subsequent part of this resource are presented as characteristic of the major differences between middle and top leadership.
Nevertheless, three points can be emphasized here that will aid in understanding the techniques and methods of inner leadership. The first is that, if there is one generalization we can make, no change can occur without a committed work community and inner leaders. Exemplary top leadership and institutional success are impossible without the full inclusion, initiatives, and cooperation of the core of middle-level leaders. Today’s complicated and global problems require complex alliances. Success comes when top leaders recognize that there are many inner leaders on the team who want to work in creative alliance with them.
A second summary point is that good leadership and followership are part of the same process. Both roles let inner leaders exercise the full range of their talents; engage in meaningful, important work; and mature as self-actualizing human beings. Excellent inner leaders follow their bosses and are actively engaged with them (Kelley, 1992). Both top and inner leaders and their core followers come to understand and respect followership as a legitimate, valuable part of work life. Both kinds of leader can expect their people to be responsive when they are candid about the importance of followership and they model that behavior as appropriate (Townsend and Gebhardt, 1990).
Finally, inner leadership is not always merely a stepping stone to the CEO’s chair. For many people, the role of inner leader is a deliberate professional choice. Making that choice provides as strong a platform for serving all those with whom the inner leader interacts as the CEO’s chair does. For indeed, it is inner leaders as much as, if not more than, their bosses who make the work community function—and they always have.